Friday, February 28, 2014

Change in the Headcount at BigLaw Firms

Headcount Strategies

Adam Smith Esquire's Bruce McEwen, well-known blawger, in a post entitled, Where Do You Want Your Firm to be in 2020?, reports some data on the strategic planning horizon of large law firms, which he argues does not extend beyond one, two, or three years.

Interestingly, he reports the following figures for the changes in headcount at large law firms.
[C]onsider the little-remarked but sobering figures on how the proportionate composition of lawyers at the largest 250 law firms in the US based on headcount has changed over the last decade:
  • Associates: from 55% to 47% (down 15%).
  • Equity partners: from 31% to 26% (down 16%).
  • Non-equity partners: from 7% to 16% (up 129%).
  • Other’ lawyers (staff, of counsel, contract, etc): from 7% to 10% (up 43%).

He comments on these changes later in the post:
And what, exactly, is the point about the aforementioned morphing composition of lawyers at large law firms? Simple, I believe:
  • First, that shrinking pool of associates. Associates require investment in training, professional development and, yes, time write-offs. (Don’t be tempted to jump to the conclusion that firms have merely responded to client preferences by cutting associates since 2008, when clients began to get serious about refusing to pay for juniors. The decline at top 250 US firms was almost entirely before that, from 2000 [55%] to 2008 [48%].)
  • Yes, associates can cost money, but they are, or ought to be, the future of the firm.
  • Equity partners, also down, are costly in another way: to firms’ reported profits per equity partner (PEP). If the top line and the bottom line are essentially flat year after year (putting aside inflation and headcount growth), what’s a body to do? Cut the denominator of the PEP calculation.
  • Non-equity partners and "other" lawyers, both up dramatically, can provide a particularly quick jolt to the income statement. Realisation rates for both are high, because experienced non-equity partners enjoy few write-offs and "other" lawyers are inexpensive to begin with. Firms can plausibly and sincerely claim they are simply being responsive to the market – clients like experienced lawyers with kinder and gentler rates than full partners – but what do they contribute to the next generation of leadership?
Worse, keeping a large swath of non-equity partners around too often results from managerial failings when it comes to performance reviews, or a cowardly preference for avoiding awkward conversation. Yet their growing ranks deprive associates of complex work, short-circuiting the associates’ professional development, impeding their career paths, and ultimately contributing to voluntary and involuntary attrition. Yet again, we have found an ingenious technique to pay the present while mortgaging the future.

I've blogged on this topic here and here. 

Thursday, February 27, 2014

ASL's Latest TV Ad Focuses on Veterans as Students

Appalachian School of Law Welcomes Veterans

A new television commercial for the law school will air locally over the next few weeks on WCYB Channel 5, the NBC affiliate in Bristol, and WEMT, the Fox affiliate in NE Tennessee.

This commercial focuses on veterans.  It features one of our current student-veterans, Irina Dan McGarry, ’14.  Lieutenant Dan did a great job, as you can see for yourself:   

For those who want the full TV experience, here is the broadcast schedule for tomorrow, Friday, February 28:


619 am
1118 am
1206 pm
230 pm
344 pm
509 pm
1106 pm
1141 pm

WEMT (Fox)
528 pm

1024 pm News

I want to thank Trustee Joe Wolfe for making this opportunity possible.  

The Hero Story in Lawyer Marketing

Lawyers Are Heroes, Too

A blawger complains this week about the sad state of lawyer marketing.  What's missing?  The hero story, in my opinion.  Head without heart.  Features without benefits.  And, an inability to show how lawyers change the world in a positive way.  

Here's a couple of contrasting videos that help illustrate the differences in a North Carolina political contest.  

35,000 Page Views for The Red Velvet Lawyer

35,000 Page Views
Friends, family, and colleagues:

Another milestone reached!  Some time last night, page views of my blog topped 35,000. The Red Velvet Lawyer will celebrate its first birthday in mid-March.  People tell me that this type of growth for a little ol' blog is impressive.  I have to take their word for it.

In the meantime, I enjoy the connection with all of you and the opportunity to share ideas, information, and news.

Love you all, and thanks so very much for your support!

Monday, February 24, 2014

Update: The Value of a Legal Education -- On Average $1,030,000

New Data Informing 
the Debate

In several postings herehere, and here, I tracked the debate between Brian Tamanaha, author of Failing Law Schools, and Michael Simkovic and Frank McIntyre, co-authors of The Value of a Law Degree.

In a recent posting, Simkovic & McIntyre update their economic analysis and take apart the basis for Tamanaha's more dismissal point of view.  

They conclude:
Comparing lifetime earnings of law degree holders to earnings of similar bachelor’s degree holders, we find that the pretax value of a law degree is approximately $1,030,000 on average, $770,000 at the median, $430,000 at the twenty-fifth percentile, and $1,420,000 at the seventy-fifth percentile. These figures include the opportunity costs of foregone wages while in law school and financing costs. We also provide separate analyses of earnings for men and women. We find that the value of a law degree at the median is higher for women than for men because of a larger increase in work hours, but at the mean, the value for men and women is similar.
Thus, the value of a law degree typically exceeds its costs by hundreds of thousands of dollars.
Even at the twenty-fifth percentile, a law degree is typically a profitable investment.
At current price levels, law degrees generally provide an attractive double-digit pretax rate of return. Legal education is profitable both for students and for the federal government as tax collector and lender. In sum, the evidence simply does not support Professor Tamanaha’s thesis.
You can find their original analysis here

Life of Brian: Negotiation Strategies Illustrated in Film

and the 
Length of the Negotiation Dance

Culture can dictate the length of the negotiation dance by determining the number of rounds of concessions and the amount of each expected concession.

In cultures in which the parties expect more haggling, parties will make 12-15 offers/counter-offers.  A clip from  Montey Python's Life of Brian, starring Graham Chapman, John Cleese, Terry Gilliam, Eric Idle, Terry Jones, and Michael Palin, illustrates haggling in a way we'd expect from this group.

Brian Cohen, played by Chapman, is trying to escape the pursuit of Roman Centurions by buying a beard as a disguise.  The frightened consumer, however, cannot buy it at the sticker price.  He is forced to haggle.  

In sharp contrast, a U.S. consumer has a low tolerance for the negotiation dance.  He or she typically will make only 2 or 3 rounds of offers. 

As a result, U.S. negotiators:

  • Avoid negotiation, in general, by paying posted prices;
  • Pay more;
  • Move too quickly to the bottom line and short-circuit the dance; and
  • Get to impasse more frequently.

Sunday, February 23, 2014

Defending Your Life: Negotiation Strategies Illustrated in Film

In Nearly ALL Situations, Don't Accept the First Offer. Duh!

Defending Your Life focuses on a transition stage in which recently dead folks must show to a panel of after-life judges that they have lived full and fearless lives.  If they fail at this proof, they must return to earth and try again. Meryl Streep appears with Albert Brooks who wrote, directed, and starred in the film.

I use a clip that shows Daniel Miller, played by Brooks, negotiating for his salary at a new job.  He has died suddenly when his car hits a bus head-on. Examples from his life, including the salary negotiation, increasingly show his fear. 

In this clip, he begs his wife to practice with him the night before the salary negotiation, and then, he abandons the approach he had practiced.

The clip allows me to discuss the gravitational pull of opening offers, who should open first, appropriate concession patterns, and leverage derived from your BATNA.   

Saturday, February 22, 2014

Fargo: Negotiation Strategies Illustrated in Film

The Pace of the Negotiation "Dance" 
the "Nibble" Technique

Fargo, a Joel and Ethan Coen creation, follows the escalating chaos set in play by Jerry Lundergaard's effort to extort money from his father-in-law through the planned kidnapping of Lundergaard's hapless wife. Lundergaard, a car salesman at his father-in-law's dealership, has been making ends meet by falsifying records to inflate his car sales.  Now, he plans to close the financial gap by getting money out of his bullying father-in-law.  

William H. Macy plays Lundergaard.  Francis McDormand plays the pregnant sheriff in pursuit of the bungling kidnapper, played by Steve Buscemi.  

Close to the time the Coen's show us Lundergaard's mounting financial problems, Lundergaard completes the sale of a car to a couple caught in a negotiation they thought had ended long before they returned to Lundergaard's office for the keys to their new car.  

The scene helps me illustrate the timing and size of concessions in distributive bargaining.  It also illustrates a hard bargaining technique called "the nibble."  

In negotiations focused on money, the time between moves takes increasingly longer:
  • 5 minutes signals:  “We’re working it out.”
  • 10 minutes signals: “But it is getting harder for me.”
  • 20 minutes signals: “I’m running out of room.”
  • 40 + minutes signals: “Careful, we are risking impasse.”
Parties and mediators must respect this part of the dance and the implicit messages being sent.  So, a negotiator should mirror the time it takes an opponent to make a concession, even if he or she creates reasons to leave the room ("I'll talk to my boss").  And, then spends the appropriate time talking with "the boss" about something not related to the negotiation (tickets to the Gophers game). 

Thus, a negotiator should not respond immediately to a concession in the later stages of the negotiation. Respect the time intervals required to send the right message to both sides of the table.

At the same time, the amount of the offers and counter-offers gets increasingly smaller, even as the time between offers increases.  It takes twice as long to get half as much money. 
But, the message being sent is: “If we both keeping making concessions, we should get to a deal.”

With the "nibble" technique, you can get added value at the end of the negotiation (in this case the inflated cost of the TrueCoat).   Late in the negotiation, the other side is unlikely to walk away when faced with a nibble demand.  They are too psychologically committed to the negotiation by this time.  ("Where's my checkbook!")

A smart negotiator will resist the demand, even name the game, or be prepared to go buy the car (or other subject of the negotiation) from another provider (walk to your BATNA).  

Or, the negotiator can say: "Oh, I am very glad to see you would like to re-open our negotiations. We had a few additional items we wanted to discuss, as well."

Friday, February 21, 2014

The Red Velvet Lawyer Mentioned in ABA Online Newsletter

From the February 21, 2014 ABA online newsletter:

Question of the Week

We want to hear from you.

Have you ever had a law prof use TV or film to illustrate a concept?

Image from Shutterstock.

On a recent snowy Friday when only five students could make it to class, Appalachian School of Law professor Paula Marie Young decided that she would screen a long excerpt from the the film The Negotiator.

"It illustrates so many concepts I discuss in my courses," Young wrote at her blog, The Red Velvet Lawyer. Young teaches certified civil mediation and dispute resolution.
There's also a TV series Young likes for this purpose: "I could create an entire course based on the negotiation tactics Francis Underwood uses inHouse of Cards," she wrote in a short subsequent post. "My idea. Don't steal it, please."

Using a fictional dramas to teach law students isn't unheard of: A William & Mary law professor created a textbook and class titled: The Wire: Crime, Law and Policy, based on the HBO television show. But how often is it really done?

So this week, we'd like to ask you: Have you ever had a law prof use TV or film to illustrate a concept? If so, which program or movie? If you have your own ideas about films or TV shows that lawyers or law students could learn a thing or two from, share that as well. (But be sensitive to your fellow readers—and moderators—and include spoiler warnings if you want to discuss the just-released season of House of Cards.)

Answer in the comments.

Monday, February 17, 2014

House of Cards and Negotiation Skills

The Francis University of Negotiation Skills and Tactics

I could create an entire course based on the negotiation tactics Francis Underwood uses in House of Cards. I could call it "Francis University" and give each graduate a pair of cuff links bearing the initials for the name of course. 

My idea.  Don't steal it, please. 

Saturday, February 15, 2014

Sam Jackson, Kevin Spacey, and The Negotiator

It is Always More Fun to Negotiate with Someone who Knows What He or She is Doing!

So, you know I'm a big fan of Kevin Spacey.  Add to the list: Sam Jackson and Denzel Washington. Students who have taken my courses know that these actors appear in a number of the film clips I use to illustrate negotiation and mediation concepts and skills.

Friday, I held a make-up class one day after a snow storm dumped 8 to 10 inches of snow on Buchanan County.  Up in the "hollers," the snow coverage could have been much deeper.  Our road crews do an amazing jobs of keeping our roads passable, but it takes time to clear all those roads at higher altitudes.

Not surprisingly, only five of eighteen students made it to class. One had to walk.

So, I decided that we would watch a long excerpt from the the film, The Negotiator, starring Sam Jackson, as Danny Roman, and Kevin Spacey, as Chris Sabian. They are both experienced, successful Chicago police department hostage negotiators now facing off against each other as Danny tries to clear his name and find the real culprits in his partner's death and in the fraud/embezzelment of the department's disability fund. Cue dramatic music.

I love this film.  It's so well written.  It uses tension beautifully. And, it illustrates so many concepts I discuss in my courses. Roger Ebert called it "one of the year's most skillful thrillers."

I've asked the missing students to watch it over the week-end.  We will then discuss it next week using the following guided note-taking.  

If, after you complete your marathon viewing of the new season of House of Cards, you still want a little more Spacey, I highly recommend this film.  You can rent it for $1.99 on Amazon.

Guided Note-taking Questions:
  1. Using the list of “Negotiating Games/Techniques/Hard Bargaining Tactics” found in the Class 9 Supplemental Materials, which games, techniques, or tactics did Danny use?
  2. Using the list of “Negotiating Games/Techniques/Hard Bargaining Tactics” found in the Class 9 Supplemental Materials, which games, techniques, or tactics did Sabian/police/FBI  use?
  3. Identify ten ways Danny controlled the negotiating environment.
  4. Identify two types of “commitment tactics” Danny used to build leverage in the negotiation.
  5. Identify three joint interests the negotiators tried to use.
  6. Identify five additional ways Danny increased his leverage in the negotiation.
  7. Identify three ways in which Sabian increased his leverage in the negotiation.
  8. How did Danny help the other officers “stand in Danny’s shoes”?  How did he maintain rapport, respect, and sympathy towards himself? 
  9. Identify three ways Danny conveyed that he was an experienced negotiator?
  10. Identify three assumptions made about Danny that affected perceptions and tactics.
  11. How did the public and press influence the negotiation?
  12. How did each side use bluffs to manage perceptions and gain (or attempt to gain) leverage? 

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Alumni of the Appalachian School of Law Very Pleased with ASL Experience

Survey Says . . . . We're Pretty Fabulous!

Ninety-one percent of ASL alumni would recommend the law school to potential students, potential employers, or colleagues. That's what the responses to a survey we distributed to alumni reveals. 

Ninety-three percent of our responding alumni had a positive impression of the law school.  

Slightly more than half of the survey respondents chose ASL for its location.

They identified the law school's experienced faculty (by a large margin) as the top strength of ASL. 

Two hundred and one alumni responded to the survey distributed in the Fall 2013, making the response rate 16.75 percent.  External surveys typically get 10 to 15 percent response rates. 

Thanks alums for your support. We love you!

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Alumnus Jessica Taylor Gives Great Interview

"Think Before You Speak; Think Before You React"

Appalachian School of Law alumnus, Jessica Taylor, gave a podcast interview about her relationship with ASL alumnus JR Cook, who is appearing on the SyFy reality show, Opposite Worlds

She is quite charming ans smart! She gives her perspective on the show and some of his possible strategies in this 40 minute podcast. 

Follow Jessica on Facebook here

Fan page for Opposite Worlds here.

Fan page for JR Cook here.

If you tweet to support him, be sure to include #AppalachainSchoolOfLaw.   Twitter handle is @TeamJRsyfy


Monday, February 10, 2014

More Praise From a Loyal Client

The Bricklayer, the Micro-burst, and the Lawyer

Yesterday, I posted some excerpts from an email I got from a former client.  I then sent him the link and said that if I needed to change anything or take it down, he should let me know.  Instead, he sent me even more heart-warming praise. 

The prior posting described my representation of a client whose shop and house suffered severe damage during a thunderstorm/tornado that struck a portion of St. Louis.  The insurance company denied his claim, asserting that the damage was caused by water and not by wind.  The policy did not cover water damage, but it did cover wind damage.

The company relied primarily on the anticipated testimony of their retained expert.  Later, using a sixth sense, I discovered that the expert had lied about his credentials.  Based on that discovery, the insurance company removed him from their list of expert witnesses.

I also learned that his report assumed a certain type of back-fill that allowed a calculation predicting that the shop wall would collapse from hydro-static pressure in a severe thunderstorm.  Working with my expert, I discovered this assumption and could refute it based on Doug's testimony about the fill used in the construction of the wall.  (He had helped build it as a young man.)   I also hired the expert I needed to bolster my client's testimony that his family had survived a tornado.  

I won this case on the science.  And, I tell my students you cannot be afraid of digging into the numbers, the scientific assumptions, or the scientific evidence.  As lawyers, we must operate across disciplines even if that work takes us out of our comfort zones.

We also won because I listened very carefully to my client, who -- despite his modest educational background -- was a very smart and successful guy.  

I aligned completely with him because I could trust him. Earlier, he had perfectly executed a masonry job at my house during the time I spent with my dying mom in Bermuda, where she was getting alternative cancer therapy. Without further input from me, he created a beautiful stone entry to my house.  If I could trust him then, I could trust him when he needed me. 

With that additional background,  here is another quote from my former client. His follow-up email is even more touching, and I hope a "teachable moment" for my students.  I am reproducing it as I got it with just a few changes in punctuation.
That was a under statement on what you really did!! You took a insurance company and kicked their ass. 
1 You earned my trust.
2 You put your client first, and listened to my story, and trusted me..or you would not of taken the case?
3 You came and visited the property multiple times.
4 You put a game plan together, that made me think WTF, I trusted in you and you were a confident person in your own abilty, I was a bricklayer that did not know that world, when a insurance company told me to clean up and take a few pictures they would take care of everything....Wrong
5 You got me twice the limits of what I was even insured for WTF 
Paula, you did this after everything was cleaned up, and the house was half ass liveable, you sifted through what few pictures I had taken, Found the Wholy Grail....The pictures of all the burn piles of branches that were laying around the house? You were smart enough to look past the house.Then took it upon yourself to recreate the sceen WTF. 
You hired the man that invented Dopler Radar.WTF that is what Kicking an insurance company ass is all about!! You were in a different league on that one...I still remember the phone call when you said, Doug, Less Lemon went through the storm records on that day and pinpointed a Micro burst on top of your house at the time you said it occured WTF, Oh and he was not a witness, that was the first time he had ever been asked to help in a case WTF that was all anything you ever write regarding my case you have my full permission....forever.....Doug Zeis [St. Louis, Missouri].
Like I said.  Lawyers have an awesome power to help people in ways those clients can never imagine.   I've got a really big smile on my face right now.   

Sunday, February 9, 2014

Creating Loyal Clients

Love your Clients and They will Love You, Too.

This past week, I got a very warm email from a former client. The "Re line" read:  "I miss my good friend and attorney."  

I had not heard from this client in several years.  But, when he has any type of legal problem, he contacts me. That's client loyalty. Here's a short excerpt from the email that makes me laugh and makes me very proud.  
How is the best attorney, this side of the Mississippi doing? I know you jumped ship and moved across the mighty Miss. so that would make you the best in the lower 48?
I represented this client in an insurance coverage dispute after a micro-burst during a thunderstorm destroyed his shop and compromised the integrity of his family's house.

What did I do over fifteen years ago to create such loyalty? Here's my guess:

  • I provided extremely high-quality client service;
  • I got the client an extremely favorable outcome;
  • I was creative, persistent, resilient, assertive, and brave;
  • I treated my client holistically, keeping in mind his emotional and psychological needs; and,
  • I purposely visited his home and got to know more about his wife and young daughter.

Chris Brogan, CEO of Human Business Works, sent me a newsletter this morning discussing customer loyalty to businesses. 

He describes three factors that make him remain loyal to a brand or business:
  • I will need to use this business's products or services more than once. 
  • The people involved in the experience made me feel welcome/important/worth it somehow. 
  • I have some level of access to people in this business beyond a "blind" customer service interaction.
Making our legal clients feel welcome, important, and deeply appreciated will turn them into loyal fans.

In a second email, my former client sent a photo of his house and of his lovely daughter, who is now 17 years old. Apparently, for all these years, they have called the house, "the house that Paula built" because they built it with the proceeds of the settlement of the lawsuit. 

It makes me proud and humble that my name has been used in such a wonderful way.  As lawyers, we often forget the impact we have on people's lives when we give them voice, validation, and vindication.  

This email exchange reminded me why I went to law school and why I continue to advise students to attend law school if they want to serve people while earning a comfortable living.  

My former client closed the email with this: "God bless you and anyone around you!!!!" Wow. 

My response: "Thank you." Just, thank you. 

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

30,000 Page Views for The Red Velvet Lawyer!

30,000 Page Views
Friends, family, and colleagues:

Another milestone reached!  Some time today, page views of my blog topped 30,000. And, after nearly a year of blogging almost every day, the Google bots are regularly paying attention to my blog.

Love you all, and thanks so very much for your support!

Seth Godin's Advice on Marketing a Law Practice

Love this Guy's Advice!

Marketing guru, Seth Godin, has a string of blog postings on his Squiddoo website that every lawyer should read.  I am creating this blog posting just so I can go back to it again and again.  

For a list of his books I found compelling on the topics of content marketing, permission marketing, and social media marketing, see here

LSAT Prep Course: You're Welcome!

90 to 100 Percent of Students Improve Their Scores on the Practice Exams

My colleague, Professor Priscilla Harris, noted that many of the students in our region of service --largely rural -- do not have access to a LSAT prep course. Consistent with our mission to serve the community, we began offering one. 

The Appalachian School of Law has now held four LSAT Prep Courses for prospective students and for students from the central Appalachian region.  

Significant Improvements:

This last time -- held February 1, 2014 --all seven students improved their test scores between the first and second practice exams.  

On average each student improved his or her test score by 3.4 points, the difference between being admitted to the law school of the student's choice or qualifying for a scholarship.  

One student saw a 7 point increase in his score on the practice exams!

Students take a practice exam at the beginning of the day.  Then, they end the day with a second practice exam.  We ask students to compare the scores on both exams.  

Course Components:

The course offers day-long instruction on the three types of test sections:  

  • Logical Reasoning, 
  • Analytical Reasoning, and 
  • Reading Comprehension.  

My colleagues -- Associate Professor Alan Oxford, Associate Professor Buzz Belleville, and Assistant Professor and Director of Academic Success and Bar Prep Studies Maryann Herman -- teach these sections of the course.  Buzz "aced" the LSAT when he took it, years ago.

I end the day with a training on 
  • mindset, 
  • test-taking strategies, 
  • time management strategies, 
  • intention setting,
  • goal setting, 
  • test-taking anxiety, 
  • self-sabotaging behavior, 
  • mindfulness meditation, 
  • relaxation breathing, and 
  • the Amy Cuddy power pose.

Other Offerings:

We provide students with a light breakfast and coffee, a picnic lunch, and a LSAT test prep workbook for their home study.

The modest $20 fee covers these expenses.

Several students asked for a tour of the campus, which we plan to offer at future trainings.

For More Information: 

If you are interested in taking the next offering of this course, contact Jackie Pruitt in our Admissions Office at  

P.S. We can take the course on the road if the pre-law advisor at a local college or university would like us to do so. We are happy to serve our community!

Monday, February 3, 2014


Appalachian School 
of Law 

If you have not yet seen it, here's the ad that ran during the Super Bowl on our regional TV station.  The ad will run for the next several weeks on both WEMT, our FOX affiliate, and WCYB, our NBC affiliate.

Please share this posting and spread the word about your law school. 

Saturday, February 1, 2014

Appalachian School of Law is in the Super Bowl!

Ad Featuring 
Educational Program

Dear ASL Community:

Thanks to the generosity of one of our founding Trustees, Joe Wolfe, the Appalachian School of Law will be featured in a Super Bowl commercial.

The 30-second spot will air during the second half of the game on WEMT, the Fox affiliate in Bristol, Virginia:

I have the honor of introducing the commercial, which features a photo montage of the law school and our students, and which emphasizes our focus upon community service, non-traditional students and natural resources law. At the insistence of the Other Professor Harris, it also features the ASL Softball Team.

After the Super Bowl, the spot will air extensively for several weeks, both on WEMT and on its sister station, WCYB, the NBC affiliate in Bristol.

I hope that you can catch the commercial during the game, but, in case you miss it, I’ll be posting a video online later.

And, for all of you ASL folks: if you happen to see Joe Wolfe, be sure to thank him. These commercials ain’t cheap.

Stewart Harris
Professor of Law
Appalachian School of Law